European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages

The European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, the Minority Languages Charter, entered into force on 1 March 1998.

The main objective of the Minority Languages Charter is to protect the diversity of Europe’s cultural heritage. The Minority Languages Charter builds on the insight that there is a large number of minorities living in Europe today and that there is a threat that some of these minorities’ languages will disappear. From the preamble to the Minority Languages Charter, it is evident that the signatory states feel that the protection of historic regional or minority languages contributes to upholding and promoting Europe’s cultural wealth and traditions. The intent of the Minority Languages Charter is not to support minority languages at the expense of the official languages in the country.

The right to use regional or minority languages in private and public life is an inalienable right in line with the principles of the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the spirit of the Council of Europe Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

Each state specifies which national minority languages are to be protected under the Charter and the degree of stringency. The state shall also point out within which geographical area or areas stronger protection should be provided.

According to the Minority Languages Charter, regional or minority languages are those languages traditionally used within a given territory of a state (historical geographic connection) by nationals of that state and that are different from the official language. Furthermore, the languages shall be the mode of expression of a number of people justifying the adoption of protective and promotional measures. The languages of migrants and dialects of the official language are not included in the definition.

If a language does not fulfil the requirement of historical geographic connection, it is considered a non-territorial language. The degree of protection is lower and more general for non-territorial languages.

Sweden ratified the Charter on 9 February 2000. Sami, Finnish and Meänkieli fulfil the requirement of historical geographic connection, while Yiddish and Romany Chib are non-territorial languages.